Luvvie Strop Throwing 2.0

dead-twitterThere are days when we all feel like chucking it in.  There have been a couple of occasions when I’ve basically thought that using a certain web site, dealing with a particular individual or organisation or even working for a specific client.  But recently the media luvvies have been having a bad attack of stroppiness.  A few weeks ago Lily Allen declared herself a ‘neo-Luddite‘ and disappeared herself from the online world.  And tonight, Stephen Fry has announced he’s considering leaving Twitter.  Given that he’s the ‘poster boy’ of that particular online service here in the UK, one has to wonder what has driven him to it. 

Let’s think what could be behind it…


  • He’s been the victim of a massive Twitter based attack, as was experienced by journalist Jan Moir after this article?
  • He was outed as a raving heterosexual?
  • He was subjected to an intense online bullying campaign?
  • His privacy was violated and all sorts of personal information were posted online?

Sorry, but no.  Apparently Mr Fry is contemplating quitting Twitter because, accoridng to the BBC:

The disagreement began when the other tweeter said “I admire and adore” Mr Fry, but that he found his tweets “a bit… boring… (sorry Stephen)”.  That same tweeter later revealed that Mr Fry had blocked him as a result.  [Stephen Fry] sent a message – or tweet – to the user with whom he fell out, saying: “You’ve convinced me. I’m obviously not good enough. I retire from Twitter henceforward. Bye everyone.”

What the Hell?  Fry has said in The Guardian that he is still considering his position.  I’m sorry, but this is a grown man who has been in the public eye for years, an author, an actor.  And he takes his bat and ball home because one person out of 900-odd thousand followers on twitter dares to say ‘You’re a bit boring?’  He’s claiming that there is too much aggression and unkindness.  Oh please, for…feck’s… sake.  Whilst I appreciate his long battle with depression, there are lots of people who’ve suffered the same way and who manage to get through this nasty, aggressive and unkind world without the support systems and good will that Fry gets.

Sorry Stephen – time to take some advice that I was given when I was in my 20s.  I received a bad review for a book I’d written.  My publisher asked me whether the magazine had my name, the book title and the book ISBN correct.  They had.  My publisher then commented that folks would still buy the book if it appealed to them, and that very few reviews had massively negative impacts on sales – the advice was to simply read the review, take on board anything useful, then move on.  And he was right; I sold books, learnt a little something and just got on with things.

Stephen – please – get a grip man and don’t throw a luvvie strop 2.0.

Get a life!

Being a discussion on the Etiquette of the Insult for the 21st century… 

duellistsI was recently fortunate enough to have this old chestnut of an insult thrown at me online in a discussion about some news item.  It’s a strange thing to say to anyone; the fact that I’m typing indicates I do indeed have a life, and to be honest I think with my achievements I’ve managed to fit 2 and a half lives or so in to things so far.  🙂

The intention of this piece is not to name and shame, however tempting that is…it just set me thinking about insults and abuse in general.  I think in recent years the unpleasant behaviour of insulting folks – especially online or via text – has become much more frequent.  I think a lot of it is that it’s easier to be abusive anonymously, and the extra mileage placed between insulter and insultee does make a smack in the mouth or a slap across the face harder to deliver back to the insulter.  So, here we go.  A 21st Century Guide to insulting Etiquette.

Of course, gentlemen and ladies do not insult each other…as I know very few of either (and doubt I am a gentleman myself) this is hopefully useful stuff for the rest of us!


When I was a kid, you tended to bite your tongue before insulting someone because there was a serious risk of being thumped.  In previous centuries you would have had a serious risk of being shot in a pistol duel or scarred or killed in a sword duel.  If you ‘knew the right people’ you could have your insulter beaten up.  Now that you can insult anonymously and from outside arm’s reach, it has made people more willing to insult people than ever before, and for less good reasons.  Which moves us on to point number 2 – have good reason to insult.

Insult escalation

George Orwell once commented to the effect that if you reviewed a book and found it ‘outstanding’, and then three weeks later found an even better book, then you couldn’t really write ‘even more outstanding than the last outstanding book’.  I guess these days it’s ‘ratings inflation’.  But in days when there were potentially serious consequences for insulting people, all involved were careful about the insults thrown and the reaction taken.  I might easily let a mild insult go by if the consequence to my following it up were to be a duel.  I would think twice before slapping someone across the face after he’d called me a moron for wearing black shoes when we all know that brown was the de riguer colour of teh day.  Today, there are fewer consequences and it’s easier to get in to a verbal pissing match.  So, if you feel teh need to insult, be proportionate – don’t go over the top and push the other person in to a corner  from which they may lash out.  And, if you’ve been insulted, think hard and long before escalating.

It was only a joke…

Oh dear – the well worn phrase of the coward, the moron or the child.  If you insult someone, have the guts to stand there when you’re called on it and either repeat your insult  or wholeheartedly apologise for your behaviour.  Bleating that ‘it was only a joke’ is the defence of three groups of people:

  1. The child – it works to some degree in the playground but once you’re over 12 years old you should start leaving this phrase behind.  It’s continued use indicates you may have the mental age of an infant, and should therefore not be out and about with the grownups.
  2. The moron – the sort of slack-jawed suburban yokel who believes the Jeremy Kyle programme to be current affairs and Wayne and Waynetta Slob to be fine role models can hardly be expected to know better.
  3. The coward – falling back on this defence when one doesn’t fall in to category (1) or (2) above indicates cowardice. 

Falling back on this phrase after being called on your insults thus catapults you in to one of three groups of society unfitting for a mature adult.  So don’t do it.

I was drunk / stoned

Some hold this to be a mitigating circumstance, others regard it as making matters worse – as well as you being insulting it indicates you can’t hold your drink / drugs.  Again – don’t fall back on this – either repeat your insult or wholeheartedly apologise.  This is a weasel response.

Water off a duck’s back

Very few insults are worth getting your blood pressure elevated over.  Even fewer are worth engaging in wit and repartee with the insulter.  Remember that by the very fact they’ve insulted you, they’re not ladies or gentlemen.  Therefore they’re unworthy and engaging with them, even to the level of ‘And your mother wears army boots’, simply brings you down to their level.  Sometimes the best response is to behave as if you hadn’t noticed it.  Online this can be most satisfying, as the truly dim insulter will carry on making louder and more ridiculous comments until they prove to the rest of the world what you already know… 

So, ignore where possible!

Graceful Acceptance

Sometimes the recipient of an insult can carry out the graceful acceptance manoeuvre in which there is an apparent agreement with teh sentiments of the insult.  This isn’t always applicable but when it is it can totally disarm the insulter.

Full and wholehearted apology

The original insult may have been triggered by what you consider to be a genuine wrong, and in that case you still need to deal with the original problem.  But if you do find yourself in a position where apology seems to be the most sensible, adult and mature way forward, then apologise for the insult fully, whole-heartedly and publicly.  A non-public apology after you’ve denigrated someone in public is, to be honest, a little weaselly. 

With luck, the person you insulted will be gracious enough to accept your apology and walk away from the whole palaver.  At which point you’ll probably both be wondering how the Devil you got in to the mess in the first place….

A bundle of needs…

I appreciate that this is likely to be read as a massive attack on the Welfare State by some, and that I’ll be suspected of channeling the political spirits of Norman Tebbit, Margaret Thatcher and Atilla the Hun by others.  However, that’s not the intention.  As some of you will know, I hold Libertarian views and am a believer in as small a Government as is practicable, but that does not mean that I take the view that the State should not intervene to help those in genuine need.

This entry grew out of the ongoing study-tidying process that’s been going on for a few weeks now here at the Towers.  I came across a newspaper article that I’d clipped in June of this year, and in the article was an interesting observation from William Beveridge – the architect of the modern UK Welfare State.  In 1948, 6 years after he originally wrote the report that gave ultimately gave birth to the benefits system, he expressed his fear that the reforms he’d introduced might encourage people to be passive about their needs.

The Government of the day didn’t take his words on board; the rest, as they say, is history, and we’re now able to look at the society that was created and wonder whether the result of 65 years of cradle to grave Welfare State has been, in the words of the journalist Camilla Cavendish who wrote the piece, to reduce people to a bundle of needs.

And I agree with her; one of the side effects of the Welfare State, especially in the increasingly Nannyish manner that it has been implemented in the last 12 years, is that many people have been dumped in to a dependency culture.  The risk to entitlements and benefits if a job is taken means that many people are not going to run the risk of taking a job that will result in them losing money from their weekly income – and I can see their point.  For all the talk of dignity of work, self respect, etc. the bottom line is that if you don’t have as much money coming in to the household then, in the words of Quark, the ferengi bartender from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – “Dignity and an empty sack is worth the sack”.

In 2007, roughly a third of all Government expenditure was in the from of State Benefits.  This constituted around 11% of GDP, and about half of the population of the UK were recipients of some form of state benefits.  Now, we live in a system where inevitably some people are going to slip to a point where they need state intervention to keep a roof over their heads.  And it’s appropriate that they get that help.  But half the country?  This is obviously not half the households; many households on benefits slip will involve a number of adults.  Some households can’t get much help at all; anyone who runs their own business or is self-employed will understand that if their business hits trouble they are very much on their own unless children are involved. 

But for those households and individuals who are dependent on benefits, and in many cases have their whole lifestyle driven by the need to maintain their access to the benefits system, let’s take a look at what this means:

  1. There are restrictions on paid and voluntary work that can be done whilst claiming benefits.  In other words, you are effectively being paid to do nothing for part of your week.
  2. The crossover between benefits and work is fraught with problems – it’s very easy to get a nice little job and lose out bigtime in the ancillary benefits that your household may be entitled to.
  3. The problems in moving in to and out of benefits – as may take place if you do contract / temporary work or find yourself on a series of short term contracts (not uncommon in a recession when piece work may be increasingly common) again discourages people from stepping out of the benefits pit to seek ongoing work.
  4. Some people with occasional illness that will prevent them working for a month or so here, a month or so there, again find it easier to stay on sickness and disability benefits rather than step in and out of the workforce and lose the regularity of cashflow of being on benefits.

There are some people for whom a loosening of the restrictions around working whilst on benefits would be a great advantage.  For example, allowing someone on benefits to do a paid job for a couple of months without losing access to benefits might seem strange, but think about what it would permit:

  1. Ongoing guaranteed income over the first month or so when pay in a new job may not be immediately available.
  2. No sudden shock to the family finances.
  3. The work is bringing in extra money for a month or so – it is worth doing.
  4. At the end of this period then the benefits can be stopped. 

There are people for whom this sort of movement in and out of the workforce would never be possible, due to illness or disability, and it should therefore be possible to allow them to do voluntary work / temporary work as required again with no financial loss.

This would require a synchronising of the Tax and Benefits system.  And the Government would also need to make it very clear (and structure tax and benefit regimes accordingly to ensure it) that if you wanted to sit on your backside you could do, but that your income would be less than someone on benefits who is working as and when they can. 

The aim is to encourage self-value, self-determination and get out of the need trap.  We cannot carry on like we are doing producing multiple generations of families in which no one has worked.  This is wrong, it’s perverse and we simply cannot afford it financially or as a society.

Screwtape casts the Net

The following email arrived in my Inbox this morning.  I’m not sure what to make of it, but I thought I’d share it hear as it has some rather intriguing ideas in it.

Dear Wormwood,

You must think we senior tempters spend our heads in the burning sand.  Of course we’re aware of the Internet – we’ve had our influence on it from the very beginning.  There was a time when the humans expressed a concern about going to war based purely on the fact that their pathetic attempts to communicate with each other would fail at the dropping of the first hydrogen bomb.  Old Slitgrubber realised that this was a fine opportunity for us to increase despair by prompting them with a means of improving their communications, and hence making them slightly less squeamish about war.  Of course, it wasn’t the war we were interested in – it was the wondrous sense of fear and despair that such things bring about. 

Of course, The Enemy was soon on the case – they are just SO bothersome – and managed to wrench some good out of the Internet, prompting it’s use by ‘normal’ humans who could use it to talk to each other,  do business, send greetings – all sorts of nonsense.  But, our Research Department was always on the case and they very soon realised that the Internet still provides a fine opportunity for soul-hunting.  Indeed, it’s use as a campaigning tool for us has improved with every new generation of software.  By Web 4.0 I’m sure it will be delivering souls by the Gigabyte!

Your proposals are, as always, dear nephew, of mixed value.  Are you sure that some piece of human brain hasn’t got lodged up there with your own?  They range from the blatantly obvious to the abjectly stupid, with fleeting glimpses of items of possible use.  But, we are here to teach and you are here to be taught; I suppose I’d better get on with it.  It’s a big subject; there are many obvious opportunities for temptation out there that can be used in less than obvious ways for our end, but I’ll investigate those at a later date.

Today I’ll give you a technique of achieving a ‘quick hit’ on your candidate, something that’s useful for …ahem….’grabbing low hanging fruit’.  See how I’m getting all the jargon right?  Who says you can’t teach an old devil new tricks?

The Internet annihilates time.  Wormwood, to you and I time is something that we don’t take too much notice of.  For the humans it’s critical – many of them run around claiming they don’t have enough time to do this, that and the other whilst wasting what time they do have on activities that don’t benefit them at all – in fact, in many cases, they don’t even get pleasure from what they spend the time doing!   The Internet has greatly helped us here. Email, Immediate Messaging, Facebook and even Text Messaging has allowed us to short circuit their thinking by convincing them that whatever pops up in their electronic in boxes is actually important, rather than just immediate.

You might be aware of the work of that objectionable human Jung.  Why he couldn’t have just kept spouting the useful materialism of Freud I have no idea, but The Enemy clearly inspired him on more than one occasion and he came up with the following observation – it’s almost as if he was reading the research Department’s report on technological advances and how we can use them:

“[Most advances] are deceptive sweetenings of existence, like speedier communications, which unpleasantly accelerate the tempo of life and leave us with less time than ever before.  Omnis festinatio ex parte diaboli est – all haste is of the Devil”

Fortunately for us, the humans don’t take too much notice of such comments and we can still con them in to thinking that all these advances give them time.  What they actually do is eat up their time, encourage them to focus on things that are immediate or that give momentary pleasures, encourage them to forget what’s truly important and reply to all these messages quickly and without deep thought – and hopefully in the process cause offence and irritation to the senders of some of the messages by their thoughtless response.  If we’re really lucky we can encourage a good run of selfishness in the souls we’re interested in, encouraging them to forget activities such as prayer and contemplation  – all by the simple expedient of providing a new game to play online.

So, Wormwood – see what you can do with your case in terms of getting them to really take on board as many forms of new technology as possible, and, more importantly, encourage them to take their pleasure in the trivial, accelerate the tempo of their lives so that they don’t know whether they’re coming or going.  And then we can really get to work…

The mail ended here.  I’m going to keep my eye on my inbox to see whether I receive any further missives from Screwtape, who(what??)ever he is.

The Brass Neck of Ordnance Survey

739px-Iberian_Peninsula_antique_mapOne of my interests is in GIS systems – Geographical Information Systems – and other aspects of computerised and online mapping.  Thanks to Googlemaps, it’s been possible for developers to create map-driven applications for nothing – Google allows access to their mapping infrastructure free for many applications, and it’s brilliant.  To anyone who hasn’t taken a look or had a play, have a look at Google Maps and for you programming types out there, take a look at the Google Maps API.

Now, what really peeves me as a UK citizen is that our own Ordnance Survey – the folks who make maps – haven’t got any facility for getting hold of mapping data free of charge.  I am aware of a rather scrappy ‘trial set’ of data that is available for use with GIS systems, but honestly – the OS was traditionally funded by the UK Government and it is only in recent years that it has been spun off.  It should not be beyond the capabilities of the current Government – who’ve always whined about innovation and creativity being a driving force of British business – and the OS to make available a system similar to the Google Maps one using UK Centric OS data, at negligible cost to software developers and end users, to actually make it easier for the development of geographically based applications on the Web, on the Mobile Internet and on our desktops.

But it hasn’t happened yet.  And this morning I find out about the ‘Geovation’ project – a project to attempt to generate innovative ideas based on the use of geographical data and concepts.  Hey, it’s supported by the OS!  I can see nothing on the site that suggests that there’s any OS data available to play with – indeed I think the only data set mentioned is Google Maps!

To be honest, this is shaping up to be an astonishing lost opportunity for the Ordnance Survey – they could have leveraged this project by making data or even some sort of API available at a reasonable cost for small businesses  or zero cost for non-commercial development and research.  It doesn’t look like it’s going to happen – I get the impression they’re going to lurk around picking up good ideas from people and then take them back and see what money they can make from them.

I may be wrong on all counts – I genuinely and sincerely hope I am, and that there is a nice, cheap, API and full UK dataset out there waiting to support companies and individuals looking at the Geovation Challenge.  Why do I think there isn’t, though?

Administratium – old humour, still depressingly true!

I found this this evening whilst clearing out some computer files from 1998.

I have no idea where it originated or how it got to me; it’s not original to me, but it’s depressing how little things change.  This was from a time in my life when I found humour in the stupidity of organisations.  I’m not sure whether I still do! 🙂


The densest element known to science was recently discovered. Called Administratium, it has no protons or electrons, thus giving it an atomic number of 0. However, it has a neutron, 125 assistant neutrons, 75 vice-neutrons (meson exchange) and 111 assistant vice-neutrons giving an atomic mass of 312. This nucleus is held together by the exchange between particles of sub-atomic forces called morons, though some workers believe that a newly discovered quark like particle, the ‘inertia’ quark, is also involved.

Due to the lack of electrons, Administratium is chemically inert but possesses the surprising ability to impede all reactions with which it comes in to contact. The tiniest amount of Administratium can reduce reaction rates several thousand fold, resulting in actions that should take a second to complete actually occurring in several days.

Administratium is unstable, with a half life of between one and three years, depending upon the environment in which the element is found. During decay, Administratium undergoes spontaneous changes in which the neutrons, vice-neutrons and assistant vice neutrons simply change places by the exchange of morons, inertia quarks and a further meson-like particle called a Beaurocraton. Some workers note that the number of vice-neutrons and assistant vice-neutrons can increase during this process, and it is believed that the energy for this process is drawn from other materials in the vicinity. Administratium will occasionally decay into Beaurocratium and Tedium.

Administratium is dangerous in any concentration, and care should be taken to remove it from any environment where its stagnating effects would be felt. Although not nowadays used in building structures, it can spontaneously form in new and well appointed buildings, especially in large mult-national corporations, government or quasi-governmental organisations. However, it can exist anywhere where there are more than three layers in any organisational structure, and can be difficult to detect until the toxic effects have reached a fatal level. The cure of Administratium poisoning is the total removal of all of the material from the affected locations; this will allow the reaction rates of affected processes to recover to their normal levels, provided that the exposure has not been to severe. In extreme cases, total the poisoning may be so severe that the exposed environment itself spontaneously decays into Administratium or one of its many sister elements.

The braying voices….

300px-Medieval_parliament_edwardA little while ago I turned the TV on to get the lunchtime news, and was staggered to find Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on 3 BBC Channels – BBC News, BBC Parliament and BBC 2 – and also on Sky news.  I took a look at what was going on, and was seriously unimpressed.  There’s a line in an old Billy Bragg song that refers to ‘those braying voices on the right of the House’ and it’s as relevant today as it ever was, with the exception that the braying voices now seem to come from all sides of the House.

It seemed to be less a matter of gaining useful information from the PM and his Ministers and more a sort of political ping-pong – soft shots from his colleagues, attempted bouncers from the Opposition party members.  Just what is the point of this nonsense, and why bother broadcasting it over so many channels?  Even with the two major issues of the day – the results of the Nimrod Accident Enquiry and the latest report in to MP’s Expenses, the whole thing still had the atmosphere of knock about farce.

Once upon a time this weekly political wrestling match might have had relevance – it may still have relevance today if the whole thing weren’t so clearly stage managed and organised to attempt to put the PM in the best light (difficult with the current fellow) and portray the opposition as witless morons (not so difficult with the current lot).  It’s not made any more palatable by the follow up reporting from Sky News, I believe, where as much time was spent on the body language of the Prime Minister than on what he actually said!  It was like watching ‘Lie to Me’ without Tim Roth or a storyline!

For our Parliamentarians, PMQ could be a weekly opportunity to show us how seriously you’re all taking the situation we’re in.  It actually seems to be an opportunity for us to once again question why the Devil we voted you in in the first place.  Folks, I seriously suggest you reverse the televising of Parliament – it really is doing you no good whatsoever.

Real Time Search – how important?

searchglassWell, both Microsoft and Google have stated that they’re adding the capability to search Twitter feeds in real-time to their search engines.   What does this mean to us mere mortals who tweet and search?

The example that I’ve seen given about the usefulness of Real Time Search (RTS) is to do with skiing – not a topic close to my heart, or one which I know much about.  My knowledge stops at things strapped to your feet and the requirement for snow…  Anyway, the example given is that you Google your favourite ski resort and along side the nromal search results returned by Google, there would also be a number of relevant, recent Tweets, that could, for example, include information about current conditions on the slopes.  The Tweets will appear based on their content or, if the Tweeter has set their account up accordingly, the location from which the Tweet has been made (geocoded Tweet).  On a purely technical basis, this is quite something.  The hamsters powering Google’s server will be running around in their wheels like crazy…

There has been an add in available for a while for Firefox using Greasemonkey that does something similar, and the effect is pretty cool, although I’m yet to be convinced about the value of most Tweets in terms of conveying information meaningful to alot of people, except in a few sets of circumstances. 

As for the importance of this combination of Tweets and Search Engine results, it’s pretty early in the game to tell but I have my own concerns and thoughts on the issue that I’ll share here.  And then in a few months time I can come back and either pat myself on the back or quietly remove this post…


A little while ago I published this item – ‘Google and The Dead Past’ in which I commented on the convergence of search technologies – Search Engine, Twitter and Facebook being three data sources – and expressed a fear that we might be moving very slowly towards a form of voluntary surveillance society, where our regular use of Social Networks  would result in much of our lives being available for review on search engines in near real-time if we weren’t careful.  Well, we now have Tweets being folded in to the Search mix; I assume that it won’t belong before Twitpics get included, and then if Facebook open up their API to facilitate searching,  my comments in that article are coming closer to reality!

Of course,  just as with standard Search Engine manegemnt on a website, it is posisble to exclude your tweets form this search.  Google have had a few gremlins with this, but they’re getting there, and it’s likely that, were they ever to join the party, Facebook would do the same thing. Whether people would avail themselves of these tools is another matter.


Just how the search engine’s ranking system will be applied to Tweets is an inetersting question.  For example, Google’s Pagerank algorithm relies on many things, including links to a page, links from it, the nature of the links, etc.  as well as content.  This is simply not going to work on Tweets, so it’s safe to assume that some other form of relevance rating will be used.  And Bing will have something totally different – as will any other Search Engine involved in searching Tweets.  I am forced to wonder how relevant the results of Real Time Search will be.  Obviously it will improve with time, but so will the ability of spammers to game the system.


Those of us old enough to remember the TV news reports of the Falklands War in 1982 would remember that events could happen in the South Atlantic a good few days before we saw it on the news.  By the time of the First Gulf War, CNN was reporting on events as they happened from it’s own reporters and within hours from the wider military theatre of operations.  By the Second Gulf War, in 2003, there were journalists embedded with infantry units carrying satellite phones and digital cameras and literally reporting on ongoing fire-fights.  It’s been said that the Falklands were reported from the point of view of the Government, the First Gulf War from the point of view of the generals and the Second Gulf War from the perspective of an infantry Platoon leader or tank commander.

The result is that whilst the Platoon Leader point of view gives us immediacy, it allows no time for contemplation of wider issues.  And the immediate perspective of one person in a large news event, for example, can give a very distorted view.  I very much expect that Tweets in search result could easily give rise to ‘firestorms’ of rumour that flare up and then get corrected within minutes.  What impact this will have on news gathering and the general emotional health of people doing searches on new stories – to be seeing a view of the world that is from the bottom up, changing every few minutes, I’m not sure.  Whilst this sort of immediate citizen journalism is great in theory I’m not sure that it’s good in practice;  tweets available to all on a Real Time Search might manipulate the news as much as report it.

So…Real Time Search important?  Conceivably yes – but perhaps in the wrong way.

Springing forward as we fall back – why I like GMT!

Alarm Clock Face

It’s that day!  The last Sunday in October when ‘the clocks go back’.  For many, the official start of winter rather than the end of British Summer Time (or Daylight Saving Time for non-Brits).  We’ve had the ‘time discussion’ here at Pritchard Towers; that’s when my wife says ‘What time is it’ and I explain that it’s 7am GMT, 8am BST, if it was yesterday it would be 8am right now….

At least the computers sort themselves out these days; I’m old enough to remember when it was necessary to manually change the clock on computers as well as on the range of mechanical and electronic clocks we have.  Actually, today and the Sunday in the spring when the clocks go forward are two of the few days in the calendar that all the clocks in the house stand a chance of being at roughly the same time.  Throughout the rest of the year slippage and stoppage take their toll!

and I’ve maybe come across a new definition of a computer – something smart enough to adjust it’s own time.  I was quite surprised this morning when my Crackberry had adjusted itself….that’s one phone less to change, I guess!

I know that there’s a great deal of pressure these days to standardise on Daylight Saving Time / BST.  I guess that there’s a lot to be said for that – I’m not, however, going to spend any time this morning debating that contentious issue.  Lots of people much more capable than I have, and with greater knowledge of the issues involved, have taxed their little grey cells to no avail.  No, this blog is purely an explanation of why I’m personally rather attached to Greenwich Mean Time.

It all goes back to my childhood – when I was about 9 years old I started getting interested in listening to the radio late at night to hear foreign stations.  I had a rather nice little book – I think it was called the Wireless World Guide To Broadcasting Stations – that listed radio stations on short wave, medium wave and longwave radio.  The ‘far away’ stuff tended to be on short wave, and at that stage I didn’t have a short wave radio.  However, it was possible to hear stations from North America on Medium wave, which was covered by my father’s ‘Ecko’ transistor radio.  It had a little aerial socket and plugging a wire in to it allowed me to hear many more medium wave stations than I would normally…but the laws of physics firmly stated ‘all the far away stuff comes in late at night’.  And so we start getting on to the business with GMT and the lost hour.

As a kid I was a morning person; typically by 1030pm (even on non-school nights) I was falling asleep and ready for bed.   In the summer, 1030pm was 9-30pm GMT, and the generally accepted rules of physics stated that the earliest I could expect to hear a station in North America would be, if I was lucky – 11-30 or midnight GMT.   Now, at a push, by taking a nap I could manage to keep my eyes open until about midnight BST, but it just wasn’t late enough.  I had worked out that the best combination of geography and frequency that would allow me to hear North America as early as possible was a station called CJYQ at Saint John’s,  Newfoundland, and so my Holy Grail of medium wave listening was discovered.

radiodialSo I started eagerly looking forward to the magic day in October when the clocks went back.  The day when 11-30 at night really was 2330 hrs GMT.   The project to hear North America was on!  The radio I was using was a nice enough receiver but the frequency markings were pretty inaccurate.  This was in the days before digital readouts – as you turned the tuning control a rather clever contraption of pulleys, springs and string moved a pointer across a long glass ‘dial’ with wavelength markings on it, which I then converted to frequency.  In order to ‘home in’ on CJYQ it was necessary to find a couple of easily identifiable European stations just above and just below the frequency for CJYQ, as there was no way I could tune the receive to it’s operating frequency directly. 

Once I’d got this done, then it was simply a case of slowly tuning between these two stations until I heard a Candaian accent.  Unfortunately, the emphasis was on slowly tuning, and repeatedly….the signals from North America tended to fade up and down very slowly  and so it was a case of being on frequency when the signal was loud. 

After a couple of weekends of propping my eyes open between 2300 and midnight..and a couple of times until 1am – I have no idea how I managed the latter, as at that time 10 year olds in my house didn’t drink coffee – I managed to get the station.  I was able to listen to it (ear squashed against the loudspeaker as I didn’t have any headphones) for a couple of minutes before it faded off in to the darkness again.  Just to be sure, I listened in again around the half hour and on the hour, hoping for a station identification announcement, and was rewarded by one!

The pleasure from the fleeting reception of that station was repeated on numerous occasions after that first time, with stations from all over the East Coast of North America working their way in to my ‘listening log’ through my adolescence.  And yes, I think all of them were heard in the winter – more a feature, I now know, of radio wave propagation than anything else – but I kept a superstitious belief that it was all due to the clocks going back to GMT.  On many occasions sleep got the better of me; I’d wake up with a loudspeaker-grille pattern on my cheek where I’d dozed off….

And what’s really weird is that even now, when the clocks go back, I start hankering to sit down on a dark night, cup of tea, radio frequency guide and headphones, and listen again for those tiny transatlantic signals.